Hammy-watch: A call on Clarke needed sooner rather than later

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann in happier times. (AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK)

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    As the one-day train rolls into the Nation’s Capital today, and with new players coming into the Australian squad for the last three games of the series against South Africa, our off-field attention is being taken up by one of the biggest quandaries in Australian cricket.

    And no, I’m not talking about the Glenn Maxwell quandary. Though I did anticipate my first cricket column of the summer would be about the annoyingly mercurial Victorian, I am actually talking about something much more important than a flaky all-rounder.

    I am, of course, talking about the new sport gripping Australia: Michael Clarke’s hamstring-watch.

    The skipper’s hamstring has become a national concern, and with it has come a flood of opinion and armchair doctorage as every cricket fan around the country has their say.

    Though I make light of the reaction to the news, there’s not a lot of argument that this particular hamstring is attached to one of the most important cricketers in Australia, nor that this is one of the more important years ahead for Australian cricket.

    Straight off the bat, the issue now becomes not when Clarke might return, but whether the Australian selectors and physios should actually be a bit strategic about Clarke’s rehab.

    Though beating India in a four-Test series at home is important, is it as important to Clarke or the team that he gets back in time for the first Test starting in Brisbane a fortnight tomorrow?

    With a World Cup on home soil starting in February, and an Ashes Tour further down the track, is Clarke best put on ice, pun intended, for these upcoming Tests with a view to bigger events next year?

    Evidently, not even the Cricket Australia hierarchy is completely sure.

    High Performance Manager Pat Howard was moved earlier in the week to anoint Brad Haddin as the man to deputise for Clarke during the Test series, a move that was as curious for the point that someone would be publicly mentioned as it is for the health of the deputy named.

    But then both coach Darren Lehmann and national selector Rod Marsh have in the past few days spoken of Clarke possibly being ready to go for Brisbane. One-day stand-in George Bailey has offered his massaging services, proving he’s equal parts committed to the cause and a little creepy.

    Whatever Clarke’s level of fitness, working back from Thursday, December 4 – the first day of the Brisbane Test – a call is going to have to be made on Clarke sooner rather than later.

    The Test squad will commence preparations in Brisbane on Sunday, November 30, and will travel on either Friday or Saturday, November 28 or 29; this much I’ve had confirmed.

    The squad would have to be announced no later than this time next week, but even when getting some dates confirmed, Cricket Australia weren’t sure when the announcement had been set down for. By my thinking, it would have to be sometime between Sunday’s fifth and final ODI, and next Wednesday at the latest.

    The next round of Sheffield Shield games commences in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane next Tuesday, with Lehmann saying in Canberra yesterday, “Most will play. They should be playing for their states, too.”

    And so here’s where it gets interesting with ‘hammy-watch’.

    If Clarke remains in doubt for the first Test, we could have a situation where he’s named next week, and maybe even joins the squad in Brisbane to commence preparations. Even if he’s 80 per cent by the time the squad assembles, presumably the selectors would want to give him time to prove his fitness.

    But just where is he up to and how much time will he be given?

    Clarke himself told Channel Nine last night that he’s still not sure of the extent of the injury, and that it “might take a day, it might take a week” before his own specialists and Cricket Australia medicos are able to make a full diagnosis.

    And that seems to be where Lehmann is letting the cards fall at the moment, too, telling me yesterday that there was no timeframe on making a decision on whether Clarke plays, and that “we’ll just see what the medicos say.”

    So the question then becomes one of do the selectors name Clarke next week, even without fully knowing how bad the injury is, or do they – and should they – make a call before they even name the squad?

    It seems to me the timings alone mean that the only way to ensure the preparations for Brisbane don’t become a full-blown, televised-with-live-updates version of hammy-watch is to err on the side of caution, and make the call now. Let the new captain prepare for the Test without having to worry about whether he will or won’t have to toss the coin on Day 1 at the Gabba.

    Take the extra time – even if it means Clarke sits out the Adelaide Test straight after, too – and ensure the skipper’s hammy will last the World Cup and see him onto the England Tour.

    And after that, the discussion about Clarke’s future in the coloured gear can be had as well.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

    Be sure to head to the second ODI between Australia and England this Friday at the Gabba, and don't forget to be wearing your XXXX Goldie to be in with a chance to win $10k in XXXX GOLD’s crowd catch competition.

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    The Crowd Says (39)

    • November 19th 2014 @ 3:20am
      Brains of a bimbo (Atgm) said | November 19th 2014 @ 3:20am | ! Report

      Nice article brett!
      aus will win against india whether pup plays or not.so the best thing for him and the team is that he takes a break from first two tests and if india surprisingly take lead in the series then he shud consider coming back.

    • November 19th 2014 @ 4:31am
      Vish said | November 19th 2014 @ 4:31am | ! Report

      I dont think it s as easy as we think. India s bowlers are a lot better and it ll take a solid effort from our batsmen to keep them out. Callum Ferguson would be a good choice to replace Clarke and Khawaja could come in to replace Doolan.
      Clarke needs to be given time to heal well. He is a not a must play in the ODI team but in tests we need his captaincy and batting

      • November 19th 2014 @ 8:47am
        Annum said | November 19th 2014 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Agreed vish, would love to see khawaja come in but he needs to play the next shield game first

      • Columnist

        November 19th 2014 @ 11:15am
        Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        There he is, that man again….

        • Roar Rookie

          November 19th 2014 @ 12:59pm
          Ross Fleming said | November 19th 2014 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

          Khawaja won me over with some solid runs in the matador cup and i am predicting a big season now that he is back from his thumb injury, read in news.com that he is training again with the bulls. He would be a great option at 3 and for christ sake give the kid a full series. On the series itself there is a change in batting looks even on both sides with Clarke, Huss and Ponting gone and the fab 3 missing for India. Its the bowling that looks way apart! Siddle, Starc, Johnson, Hazelwood and Harris are miles ahead in thier backyard. With only, Ishant and Shami expected to paly all 4 tests and remote chance for Yadav and Aaron its no contest to start with. I expect Warner, Smith and Rogers to score big in this series, while for India we may have some spark from Vijay, Pujara, Kholi although whether they can do that consistently over 4 tests is a question mark.

        • November 19th 2014 @ 6:34pm
          Brains of a bimbo (Atgm) said | November 19th 2014 @ 6:34pm | ! Report

          Who?????me???

      • November 19th 2014 @ 6:47pm
        Brains of a bimbo (Atgm) said | November 19th 2014 @ 6:47pm | ! Report

        Khwaja is a better option than ferguson,burns is better than khwaja and white is better than burns.

    • Roar Guru

      November 19th 2014 @ 4:52am
      Tim Holt said | November 19th 2014 @ 4:52am | ! Report

      Great to see you back Brett, always enjoy your articles

      I must say i am a tad bemused as to why there is even a debate over it, and the fact there is points to the lack of any depth in Australia’s batting, and the desperate need for Clarke to play. I say this, for even if there was a slight concern on a player as pivotal as Clarke , with the WC and Ashes on the horizon, you would wrap him in cotton wool for a series against one like India, and use it to blood others.

      But, the ‘others’ all have a speculative nature attached to them, with the absence of solid figures, and dominance of Shield bowling to dictate they are picked. In response to this, fans will automatically point to Hughes, but he seems to be the Aussies version of Mark Ramprakash, one that dominates below the test game, but, is ruthlessly exposed when he is in the whites

      All this means is that if Clarke misses, it puts extra emphasis on Warner/Smith, two who have carried the batting in 14, and gives India, if they bat well a chance to pull off a miraculous win

      • Columnist

        November 19th 2014 @ 11:08am
        Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Must say I agree Tim, and I’m with you on the question of debate. Today it’s being suggest that Clarke might play for Wests this weekend or in the Shield game next week in order to prove his fitness, but I think this is just madness. If he’s needed for Brisbane, then for goodness’ sake, don’t take any more risks!!

        • November 19th 2014 @ 11:26am
          Sideline Comm. said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:26am | ! Report

          Yeah I saw that. Apparently in line with Boof’s insistence that all players looking for selection in the first test must have played at least one red-ball game.

          I must say I applaud the notion.

          • Columnist

            November 19th 2014 @ 11:46am
            Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:46am | ! Report

            I’ve got nothing against Lehmann wanting the Test guys to play some red-ball cricket, Sideline, but I don’t see the need or get why they would want to risk Clarke next week. There’s minimal gains in that move, for mine, in the grand scheme of things.

            And as it is, the Test squad could quite easily be named before those Shield games start next Tuesday..

            • November 19th 2014 @ 12:23pm
              Sideline Comm. said | November 19th 2014 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

              No, I do agree with you about Clarke. They don’t need to risk him. I actually agree with you in that he should rest until after the Adelaide test at the earliest. However, I would like to see him do at least one domestic four day game before returning to the international arena. He is just a big risk, as it stands.

    • November 19th 2014 @ 6:53am
      Gav said | November 19th 2014 @ 6:53am | ! Report

      Hammy Watch!
      Yep a National Incident Brett for sure.
      Darren Lehmanns already had enough…..saw one interview on CA website where he answered the medial with irritation “Look I just want to know whether he’s right to play or not…..you blokes will probably know before I do anyway”
      I’m with ATGM…..rest him and use the opportunity to expose fringe players.

      • Columnist

        November 19th 2014 @ 11:10am
        Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Gav, even in Lehmann’s response to me yesterday, I picked up a little frustration. I think he’d like to know one way or the other too..

    • Columnist

      November 19th 2014 @ 7:19am
      Geoff Parkes said | November 19th 2014 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      Hi Brett

      I think you’re right to highlight the problems which will arise if he is selected but not confirmed right up until the eve of the test. I think they will make a decision early, based on the best medical prognosis which has him getting through the first test without risk of re-injury or not. In which case I’d be very surprised if he’s included.

      More to the point, on what we’ve seen lately, against SA and particularly Pakistan, he’s horribly out of form anyway. I don’t recall him ever looking so tentative at the crease.

      • Columnist

        November 19th 2014 @ 11:14am
        Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        Cheers Allanthus. I think the form issue is really only recent, he made 220 runs in South Africa at 55 back in March. He hasn’t made since though..

    • November 19th 2014 @ 7:54am
      Broken-hearted Toy said | November 19th 2014 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      He’ come back twice in six months from hammy problems and probably too early. They should leave him out of the first test match as a precaution.

      Aussies will have to learn to get along without him at some point so might as well start now. If he’s as hampered as he was in UAE, there is little to be missed apart from his presence.

      • Columnist

        November 19th 2014 @ 11:15am
        Brett McKay said | November 19th 2014 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        And if he sits out the First Test BHT, he might as well miss the Second, too, starting only four days later in Adelaide..

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